The Notre Dame Fighting Irish finished the 2021 regular season with an 11-1 record. The loss to Cincinnati kept them from receiving an invite to the college football playoffs and earned them a berth in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl against the Oklahoma State Cowboys, During the downtime between the end of the regular season and the Fiesta Bowl Notre Dame lost head coach Brian Kelly to LSU. Brian Kelly coached the Fighting Irish for 12 years and compiled a record of 113-40. Under Kelly Notre Dame has appeared in the college football playoffs twice going 0-2 and has one BCS championship appearance against Alabama, a 42-14 loss.
Defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman was promoted to the head coach position following the departure of Brian Kelly. Coach Freeman began his coaching career as a linebackers coach for Kent State in 2011. In 2013 Freeman became the linebackers coach at Purdue until 2016 when he was promoted to co-defensive coordinator. Coach Freeman held the defensive coordinator position at Cincinnati from 2017-to 2020. Freeman’s first game as head coach of the Fighting Irish was a loss to Oklahoma State 37-35 in the Fiesta Bowl. What can we expect from the Fighting Irish in the first full season under Marcus Freeman?
The offense must replace some key players including quarterback, running back and receiver from a team that went 11-2 last season. Sophomore Tyler Buchner will likely be the starting quarterback next season after making an impression in limited duty as a run-oriented quarterback last season. Buchner carried the ball 46 times for 336 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 7.3 yards per carry for the Irish. As a passer Buchner went 21 for 35 for 298 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions in 10 games for the Irish. Running back Logan Diggs, a projected starter, injured his shoulder in the spring game and is questionable for the start of the regular season. Notre Dame has a stable of talented yet unproven backs including Chris Tyree, Audric Estime, and Jadarian Price, all hoping to make meaningful contributions next fall. Notre Dame is counting on its receiving corps to step up this year and alleviate pressure on the running game. Lorenzo Styles is a leading candidate to be the top receiver for the Irish after a remarkable Fiesta Bowl in which he had eight receptions for 136 yards and one touchdown.
Al Golden will take over the role of defensive coordinator for the Fighting Irish and will be the team’s third coordinator in three years. Golden brings a wealth of experience to South Bend with stints in both college and the NFL. He was most recently the linebackers coach for the Cincinnati Bengals. Golden has also served as a head coach for Temple (2006-2010) and for the Miami Hurricanes (2011-2015). The defense is expected to be the strength of the team as it brings back key starters on the defensive line, linebacker corps, and the secondary. Now that we have discussed the offense, defense, and new defensive coordinator, let’s look at the three biggest games on the schedule for the Irish.
Notre Dame v Ohio State 9/3/22
The college football world will not have to wait long to see what the 2022 Notre Dame football team has to offer. The season opener features the Irish traveling to Columbus to take on Ohio State. This game has immediate college football playoff ramifications with the winner catapulting themselves into early consideration and dominating the national conversation. The loser will still have much work to do but it is not inconceivable to overcome an early season loss against a top ranked opponent. Ohio State is too much for Notre Dame in this one. Ohio State defeats the overmatched Irish 38-17 at the “Shoe”
Notre Dame v Clemson 11/5/22
Notre Dame should enter this game 7-1 after reeling off seven straight victories following their season opening loss to the Buckeyes. Clemson will be coming off the bye week and will have had plenty of time to prepare for their trip to South Bend. The Irish will have been on the road the week prior facing Syracuse. The defense will keep the Irish in the game for the first two and a half quarters but ultimately the Tigers will prove too much for the Irish. The Clemson Tigers will hand Notre Dame its first home loss and second overall loss of the season. Clemson 27 Notre Dame 13.
Notre Dame v USC 11/26/22
The USC Trojans last defeated Notre Dame in 2016. The 45-27 drubbing at the hands of the Trojans was the culmination of a season in which the Irish went 4-8. Notre Dame has outscored USC 134-74 in the four games since the USC beatdown over the Irish. The teams did not play in 2020. The 2022 version of the USC football team looks to be a more explosive team than in years past. The Trojans have a new head coach calling the shots in Lincoln Riley. This is the same Lincoln Riley who orchestrated three straight college football semifinal appearances as head coach of Oklahoma. Supremely talented receiver Jordan Addison joins the Trojans via the transfer portal in 2022. Addison led college football with 17 receiving touchdowns in 2021 and added a rushing touchdown for good measure. While the college football world expects the Trojans to be vastly improved in 2022 it will not be enough to defeat the Irish. Notre Dame wins this one on the road 31-24.
Notre Dame going 1-2 in the three highest profile games on its schedule does not sound great, but this will be year one under a new head coach and defensive coordinator. The rest of the season should be favorable to the Irish faithful as Notre Dame will end the regular season with a 10-2 record missing out on the college football playoffs for a second straight year. The ten-win season will be enough to propel the Fighting Irish to a New Year’s Day Six bowl game. A ten-win season for a first-time head coach would be a fantastic start to the Marcus Freeman era at Notre Dame as he looks to put his stamp on the program.